July 10, 2020 (MLN): Pakistan International Airlines’ (PIA) ‘fake license’ controversy has taken a surprising yet much-deserved toll on the aviation sector, as several countries have reacted to the scandal by imposing restrictions on the national carrier’s international movement.
For the unversed, the government had discovered as many as 262 out of the total 860 pilots to have fake licenses, the information of which was made available to the public. Following this revelation, the government had dismissed around 28 pilots, with stern disciplinary and criminal proceedings ongoing against the remaining fake license holders.
While the motive to openly publicize the fake license scandal was to show the citizens how the government was doing its best to revive the national carrier, the gesture quickly backfired as not only PIA, but the government too saw itself at the receiving end of an endless backlash from domestic as well as international spectators.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) was the first international body to react to this controversy, as it barred PIA from flying into most of Europe for the next six months. The ‘validity of the Pakistani pilot licenses’ and ‘incapability of the state of the operator to certify and oversee its aircraft as per international standards’ were some of the reasons put forth by the EASA for banning PIA into its district.
Not only this, several countries that had hired Pakistani Pilots in their national airlines, such as Malaysia and Vietnam, also took strict actions and grounded their Pakistani employees over the fake license case. Similarly, the United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority withdrew PIA’s permit to operate from three of its airports, whereas the United Arab Emirates sought to verify the credentials of its Pakistani pilots and engineers.
The latest country to follow the suit has been the United States, as the U.S. Department of Transportation has revoked permission for PIA to conduct charter flights to the country, citing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) concerns over Pakistani pilot certifications.
Despite the backlash and strict actions that have transpired out of this situation, the Prime Minister Imran Khan has been lauded by many for being on the front foot and tackling the problem of corruption heads on, to ensure the sanctity of the aviation industry and safety of the passengers.
It may have gone unnoticed by many that the state has handled the embarrassment part very smarty, by giving it a political angle. The concerned authorities, while putting forth the facts pertaining to the issuance of fake licenses, pointed out that most of the suspected cases were issued licenses from 2012 to 2018, a time when Imran Khan was not even the Prime Minister.
Some of the prominent figures within the cabinet have even tried to cover for the Prime Minister by stating that the ‘probe was not a leak, but something that the PM wanted to correct to ensure aviation safety for the citizens’.
On the other hand, some believe that the scandal has put the jobs of several Pakistani pilots across the globe at stake. The sudden urge to free PIA from years of embedded corruption comes hardly two months after the infamous plane crash, which shows how desperate the government is to distract the citizens from the main issue.
Sor far, the actions that have been taken by the Aviation Ministry, besides the dismissal of the fake license holders, include suspension of five CAA officers who were responsible for issuing the fake licenses. The investigation over the case is still underway, and the ministry is doing its utmost best to ensure PIA’s compliance with international standards. Whatever the case may be, the country has indeed suffered a lot in terms of global humiliations and restrictions, something that would take a lot of time and effort to fix.
Several concerns are also being raised over PIA’s financial well-being and future earnings, as the scandal may have definitely steered away many of its exiting as well as potential customers. Now with the restrictions by some of the largest economies across the globe in place, the decline in earnings for at least the next six months is inevitable.
It is pertinent to mention that PIA had earned an operating profit of Rs. 5 billion during the first quarter of the current year, i.e. 37% higher as compared to the corresponding period last year. The growth in the company’s earnings was a result of the deployment of extra capacity in high yield markets such as the United Kingdom, which also helped in negating the impact of additional costs arising from an increase in fuel prices and suspension of flights to India and the Far Eastern countries.
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